GONE TO THE ANIMALS

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By Jacqueline Nunes

On a rocky pedestal, surrounded by motionless blue water, a mighty grizzly bear surveys its habitat.

Bass jump from spouts of crystal clear water and shimmer under a canopy of autumn leaves. A gust of wind chills the air as a security guard walks by.

Children rush up to play in the water, pat the bear on the head and spin the bass around on their watery spouts. Across from the bear, Urban Behavior is having a 50 per cent off sale.

Woodbridge finally has its mall. A large sign proclaiming Vaughan Mills in glowing letters beckons from beyond Highway 400, competing with the blinking lights of a flying saucer perched atop a multiplex theatre. Down the street, you’ll find the other 30-screen movie theatre, and further down you’ll find a 45,000 sq. ft. arcade.

Within the same few blocks, you’ll also encounter a Wal-Mart, a Costco and a few of the dozens of big-box shopping plazas that round out Woodbridge’s cesspool of excess.

For two years, the material-hungry have waited with bated breath for the mall that’s rumoured to one day become the second largest in Canada (it opened unfinished for the Christmas rush). Where the grizzly and the bass fit into this consumerist mecca is a mystery. Walk down the hallways of Vaughan Mills and you’ll find lots to confuse you.

For instance the massive canoe that hangs from the ceiling, decorated with pictures of cottage life. Or the food court, where the tables are emblazoned with Canadian road maps and the fast food joints are represented by small towns in Ontario. Taco Bell is Sault Ste. Marie. New York Fries is Massey. KFC is Faurquier.

Walk towards the information desk and you’ll find yourself surrounded by facts about Ontario’s north. What does the word “Ontario” mean? Iroquoian word meaning “beautiful water.” And facts about Vaughan Mills: How many kinds of wood were used to construct the wood floors in Vaughan Mills? Four (maple, oak, jatoba, walnut).

Down a water-themed corridor, panels of blue fabric hang from the ceiling, backlit by moving lights and blown by air vents to simulate moving water. You haven’t even reached the main attraction. Walk further still, and you’ll find Muskoka chairs lining the walls. Then, stuffed Canadian geese in flight.

By the time you get there, you’re wondering if you can take much more of this consumerism veiled in cheesy nature motifs. And then it’s upon you. A life-size black bear towers high above beavers and a raccoon. A three-storey waterfall splashes down into a faux wilderness scene, as a motionless deer looks on.

You’ve reached Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. But, even the rumoured 24,000-gallon fish tank, trout stream, shooting range, and live archery course couldn’t entice me to join the bottleneck of people flooding into the store.

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When I was a kid, I ran through the fields of Boyd Park, marvelled as a chickadee ate out of my hand at the Kortright Centre, and played games in the grass of my own backyard. Woodbridge has its fair share of natural spots, despite the whirlwind of construction that has struck the town in the last 10 years. Obviously, I don’t consider Vaughan Mills one of them.

But, the parents of a little girl in a zebra-striped coat do. The girl is skipping towards Bass Pro Shop, babbling excitedly about the bears and the rabbits they promised she’d see.

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